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Annan urges fight against ‘everyday’ intolerance

Annan urges universal fight against ‘everyday’ intolerance – root of racist horrors

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on everyone, from parents to schools to governments, to fight everyday discrimination and “unteach” common-place intolerance that underpin humanity’s “most horrific crimes.”

“From name-calling in schools to hiring and firing decisions in the workplace, from selective media or police coverage of crimes to unequal provision of Government services, the mistreatment of racial or ethnic groups not only abounds in our societies, but often passes unchallenged,” he said in a message marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“That such everyday racism remains prevalent is undeniable. But for it to pass unchallenged is unconscionable,” he added of this year’s theme - Fighting Everyday Discrimination.

The Day commemorates 21 March, 1960, when police in apartheid South Africa fired on a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville protesting racially discriminatory laws. Dozens of protestors died, and many more were wounded.

“We are all aware that many of man’s greatest atrocities have had racial underpinnings, but the collective toll inflicted by routine racism is frequently overlooked. Indeed, the edifices of humanity’s most horrific crimes have often been built on the foundations of banal bigotry,” Mr. Annan said.

“We must not tolerate the creeping rot of routine discrimination. Nor can we resign ourselves to it as a regrettable attribute of human nature. None of us is born to hate. Intolerance is taught and can be untaught.

“Legal guarantees are a fundamental part of this fight. But education must be its vanguard. Education can foster awareness and cultivate tolerance. It should begin at home - where, after all, many racist attitudes have their origin - continue in school, and become integral to our public discourse. In this struggle against intolerance, citizens must simultaneously be teachers and students,” he added.

“The United Nations, through its awareness programmes, international law-making and rights-monitoring roles, has an important part to play. But all of us need to join this battle,” he concluded, stressing that ultimate success rested with ordinary citizens speaking out against “ordinary” intolerance.

“It is they who must refuse to tolerate discriminatory acts in their daily lives. It is they who must ensure that there is nothing “everyday” about discrimination. And it is they who will benefit the most from communities built on rights and respect for all.”

In the keynote address at a ceremony marking the Day in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said that despite the many efforts undertaken by the international community, racism and racist practices continued to spread in subtle, vicious and insidious ways.

Her Office was determined to make the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance a priority, cutting across all areas of its activities, she added.

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